“Some cultures like the Plains Indians, like the Lakota, they lived mostly on Buffalo. And they were the longest lived people in history. More centenarians per capita than any other population at the turn of the century.”
Dr. Mark Hyman mentioned that as a side comment, in a talk with Tom Bilyeu (27 minutes into the video below). This caught my attention for the obvious reason. The Lakota, on a carnivore diet as they were in the 19th century, hold the world historical record for the longest lived population. Let’s give credit where it’s due. And the credit goes to those nutrient-dense buffalo that gave up their lives for the greater good of the Lakota.
But the thing that surprised me is that Hyman brought this up at all. He is not a carnivore advocate. In fact, he was advising against it. He isn’t even particularly paleo in his dietary views. Of the alternative health doctors, he is one of the more well known and one of the more mainstream. I wouldn’t exactly say he is conventional, although he doesn’t tend to stray far into extreme dietary regimens. His comment was a bit out of character.
I looked it up and found where he spoke of it in one of his books: Eat Fat, Get Thin (at the beginning of chapter 7). That passage gives more context there for why he highlights that exemplary population. He brings up another long-lived population, the Seventh Day Adventists who are vegetarians. “What gives?” he asked. “Meat or veggies? Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. The answer seems to be that it is not the meat or the veggies, but the sugar and refined carbs that are part of the typical meat eater’s diet and our highly processed inflammatory diet that we should be concerned with.”
That makes more sense of why he was interested in the Lakota. He presents two diets that most people would take as extreme and then seeks a moderate position. Then he concludes that it isn’t what either diet includes but what they both exclude. That is a fair enough point (reminiscent of Catherine Shanahan’s assessment of industrial seed oils in Deep Nutrition; see Dr. Catherine Shanahan On Dietary Epigenetics and Mutations). The same basic argument comes up in an article on his official website, Is Meat Good or Bad for You?. He states that the “whole carnivore-vegan debate misses the real point”.
Sure, it misses the point. But did you see the sleight-of-hand he did there. He switched the frame from a carnivore-vegetarian debate to a carnivore-vegan debate. That is problematic, since vegetarianism and veganism are extremely different. Vegetarianism is animal-based omnivorous diet. It allows animal foods such as eggs and dairy (some even include seafood). If a vegetarian so desired, they could eat almost entirely animal foods and remain vegetarian. That is not possible with veganism that entirely excludes animal foods of all varieties (ignoring vegans who likewise make exceptions).
In comparing long-lived carnivores and long-lived vegetarians, maybe there is more going on than the unhealthy processed foods that their diets lack. The early Lakota obviously were getting high-quality and highly nutritious animal foods, but the same could be true of the vegetarians among Seventh Day Adventists. Both could be getting high levels of fat-soluble vitamins, along with other animal-sourced nutrients such as EPA, DHA, choline, biotin, etc. A vegan lacks all of these without artificial sources of non-food supplementation. That isn’t a minor detail.
We have no comparable vegan population that has been studied or about which we have a historical data. Interestingly, veganism didn’t exist as a diet until a Seventh Day Adventist received it as a message from God. Yet even to this day, there are no significant number of vegans among Seventh Day Adventists or any other population, much less vegans who have been on the diet for their entire life or even multiple generations. There is no such thing as a long-lived vegan population. In fact, few people who start a vegan diet remain on it for long. We have no clue what would happen to an entire population maintained on veganism for their entire lives. It’s a complete unknown. But what we do know is that populations that allow animal foods, from carnivore to vegetarian, can maintain good health and can produce centenarians.
This gets overlooked in mainstream debate where vegetarianism and veganism are conflated as plant-based diets. That confusion is purposely promoted by vegans (e.g., the documentary The Game Changers) who don’t want a public discussion about animal foods, especially not nutrient-dense animal foods as part of regenerative farming, and so vegans want to dismiss all animal foods as factory-farmed ‘meat’ supposedly destroying the world. For some reason, many experts like Dr. Hyman have fallen into this framing, a framing by the way that corporate interests have likewise promoted (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet).
If vegetarianism is to be lumped with veganism as plant-based, then we are forced to be honest in admitting that most modern diets are plant-based, including the paleo diet and the Standard American diet. Most people eat foods consisting primarily of plant-based ingredients. Just look at the wide variety of junk food and other prepackaged foods that are largely or entirely made from plants. Commercial candy, snack mixes, potato chips, crackers, cookies, breads — all typically vegan and the few that aren’t barely have any animal-based ingredients in them. Most Americans eat these foods all day long. Their cupboards at home and their desk drawer at work are filled with them, always ready at hand when those addictive cravings hit for the next hit of starchy carbs and sugar.
Also, the supposedly ‘healthy’ foods people start their day off with — breakfast, the so-called most important meal of the day — are mostly plant foods (toast, muffins, bran cereal, granola bars, oatmeal, fruit, etc), maybe with some dairy added but even plant fake milks and fake butter is putting a major dent in the dairy industry, having recently put some dairy companies out of business, despite the fact that research shows that they are less healthy than their dairy equivalents. Even the most meat-loving Americans eat massive loads of grains, potatoes, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, seed oils, etc in a thousand different forms and all of them destructive to health. Think of all that goes with a hamburger at a fast food restaurant: bread, pickles, maybe onions, ketchup, mustard, french fries, soda pop, and maybe a desert item — and don’t forget, Supersize that!
Is that really animal-based? No one honestly could claim it is. This plant-based Standard American diet is one of the great successes of big ag and big food industrial complex. Yet there is still more propaganda for a “plant-based” diet in pushing people to eat more plant foods (Ethan Varian, It’s Called ‘Plant-Based,’ Look It Up). But that demonstrates how, other than describing veganism, the label of “plant-based” is next to meaningless or not particularly useful in distinguishing between common diets, much less distinguishing between which modern diets are supposedly health and which supposedly unhealthy. Still, it is useful in distinguishing between most modern diets and most traditional diets, since veganism is a modern invention that didn’t exist until the late 19th century. For example, studies show that the majority of hunter-gatherers, even those surrounded by plants, don’t adhere to a plant-based diet since they get most of their energy and nutrients from animal foods.
So, what are we pretending this fake debate is about? And what is it really about? I can’t answer that for others, but here is my simple point. Most of the essential nutrition people get from their diet comes from animal foods, not plant foods. This is the reason that vegans are among the most malnourished groups, as shown in numerous studies, with high rates of mental illness, infertility, etc. Yet those on animal-heavy diets that exclude the industrially-produced plant foods tend to be in great health. What distinguishes a vegetarian from a vegan is precisely that one eats nutrient-dense and nutrient-bioavailable animal foods and the other doesn’t. That makes all the difference in the world.
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